Valley Farms

  • Ross Dickinson, Valley Farms, 1934, oil on canvas, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Transfer from the U.S. Department of Labor, 1964.1.40

Stark hills seem to threaten the lush farms at their feet in this vivid painting of a Southern California valley. Californian artist Ross Dickinson dramatized his home state’s eternal confrontation of nature and man by exaggerating the steep slopes of the hills and the harsh contrast between the dry red wilderness and the green cultivated land. The artist stressed the centrality of water in California. A river, reflecting the pale sky, is a milky curve against the verdant valley. The irrigated farms are luxuriant, while the hills during the summer dry season are an arid brown. Dickinson reminded the viewer of the constant threat of fire by showing a farmer burning brush or trash in the foreground, with the red flame sending up a thin column of smoke. In the background, a larger plume of smoke suggests a chaparral fire going out of control, a potential threat to the little white houses in the valley. The danger parallels other stresses that faced the region during the Great Depression, as the homeless and hopeless from the drought-plagued Dust Bowl poured westward in search of agricultural work. The destitute hordes demanded far more jobs than California could offer.

1934: A New Deal for Artists exhibition label

Valley Farms
39 7850 18 in. (101.4127.3 cm.)
Credit Line

Smithsonian American Art Museum

Transfer from the U.S. Department of Labor

Mediums Description
oil on canvas
  • Architecture Exterior – domestic – farmhouse
  • Landscape – valley
  • Landscape – mountain
Object Number
Linked Open Data
Linked Open Data URI

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